Chrystal’s Story: Finding The Way to the Quaker Path

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This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


My second chance at life — time to move.

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And: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 1)

Early in the spring of 2014, it became clear that our house no longer worked for us, and that we needed to move. My dad’s Parkinson’s had advanced so much that he could no longer come into our small house. The house was laid out in such a way that there were too many stairs. And our main level bathroom was way too small and could only hold 1 person at a time, so no one could be in there, helping my dad, which he needed at that point. Also, the 2 flights of stairs were tearing up my husband’s knees and my knees. (We took care of my dad several weekends per year, to give his wife a break from the constant care. It was my idea, and I was glad she took us up on the offer.)

The front and back yards at this house were non-existent, and my kids had to play in the parking lot which had a surprisingly constant flow of cars. There were other issues too, but all of it added up to “we don’t belong here anymore.” So we started house shopping. We did finally move to the town where my parents lived. Now I was closer to my dad, and I could help take care of him 5 days a week at his house. Our new home was laid out in such a way that family members could carry my dad to the main level of the house, and then he wouldn’t have to do any more stairs, and the bathroom was nice and roomy. We had my dad over one time only. He died a few months after we moved here. We do still love our house. It’s perfect for us. I am glad we got to have him over the one time.

We moved here in late spring, 2014. At this point in my church search, I had visited a few churches between leaving the Christian Science branch church, and hadn’t found a sense of harmony at any of them. I still felt like a rebellious person bucking everyone around me. Other churches weren’t working for me yet. I attended 1 that my husband had expressed interest in, but then he didn’t want to go, and they ignored Christians, belittling their thoughts. I wasn’t yet ready to give up Christianity, so it felt painful to attend that church. I attended another church which I had been taught “that’s an off-shoot of Christian Science.” And there were lots of similarities. The biggest and most important difference, though, was that the members clearly went to doctors and didn’t begrudge anyone needing or seeking medical care. I had a misunderstanding at that church with a member over whether or not I could teach The Bible to children (even though it was a Christian church whose minister talked about Jesus and Bible stories every week to the congregation), and I left without looking back.

I had, the previous week, bought a little journal with a tree on it at the church gift shop. And I turned to this paper journal as my “new church.” Any insight I had, I would write in the journal. I loved that little journal, and I felt like I could exist in this “in between” state of not having a church. I could write whatever felt inspiring to me. Now, I have many journals. Some are day to day recordings. Some are “I need to get this anger out of my body, so I will write it here and it won’t hurt anyone.” Some are just thoughts and ideas, and some are book ideas or article ideas I want to write. But this journal was special. I only wrote my best, most spiritual ideas in this journal.

All of a sudden, one day in August, after we had moved to our new town, I woke up to a bright sunny morning and realized, out of nowhere, “there is a Quaker church in the town where we live now!” (I have since learned it’s called “Meeting House” instead of “Church.”) Oh, I was so excited. I found their service times on their website, and showed up on the following Sunday.

I walked in the door, sat down, and had a wonderful experience sitting in Silence with these people. Afterward, everyone at this particular Meeting stands up and says their name and shares a joy or a sorrow (mostly, they are joys being shared). This was specifically started to benefit the one person in the congregation who is blind, as she wants to know who all is there. It is such a loving gesture. One woman stood up and talked about her bee ministry. She was biking all over her neighborhood and having wonderful talks with her neighbors about not using neonicotinoids. These are common pesticides that are killing off the bees in our country in alarming rates. I immediately knew that this was my new church. I knew I was home. I have attended regularly ever since, and asked for a Clearness Committee to help me get clear on joining.

I went through the Clearness Committee process and joined the church about a year after I started attending.

One thing I have loved about the Quaker Meeting is sitting in Silence. I thought I had done that during Wednesday evening testimony meetings at the Christian Science church, but the Quaker experience of Silence is nothing like the Christian Science Wednesday evening testimony meeting “silence.” At the Christian Science church, there is a yearning from members to fill the silence with testimonies. The silence drags on so long at those meetings, or a member will stand up and ramble for 15-20 minutes, which feels like such a drag. Often, the testimonies are about praying about a cold that went away, or a set of lost keys or a lost book that got found. (I once gave a testimony that I had lost a particular Bible and I had yelled at God then found it within 45 seconds.) There are other testimonies too, where someone shares ideas they just gleaned from reading a Bible story or a passage in “Science and Health.” I remember someone once giving a “testimony” about being freed from the desire to buy bandaids. She referenced the quote: “accidents are unknown to god,” from Science and Health.

“Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony.”  – Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, page 424

One time, I gave a “testimony” about a concussion I had after a severe fall on ice in a parking lot, and how I had forgotten so much, I couldn’t even remember my own phone number to tell the practitioner how to call me back. The Reader that Wednesday cut me off and said, “how about if you get to the spiritual truths you prayed, and don’t tell any more symptoms.” She was pretty rude. I had been trying to lay the groundwork for the serious problem I had, and then share the prayer of the practitioner, since I was in no state to pray myself. But I closed the testimony with the same old, same old, “the practitioner prayed, and then I took a nap, and I woke up, and I was fine, and I want to thank The Desk for the Readings.” (If matter isn’t real, why do we thank an inanimate object for reading to us?) (Note to any Christian Scientists who are reading this: that Reader behind the desk did a lot of work to bring those readings to the congregation. Don’t thank a desk. Thank a human being for working hard and trying to do good!)

Sitting in the silence at Christian Science services feels like torture to me. I was always trying to figure out some dramatic testimony to give, to fill the silence. Sitting in Silence at the Quaker Meeting feels wonderful. One of the first things I spoke about “out of The Silence” was, “I was sort of begging God for a break in my life, things are too busy. I need a pause button! And I realized: this Meeting, right here, is my pause button.”

I always leave Quaker Meeting feeling like I have had a mental rest. This feeling lasts for several days for me, and is starting to permeate my life. I was feeling rather hectic a few days ago in the morning, so I quietly sat down on my bed, and just sat “in The Silence.” It’s sort of like meditating. Maybe some people meditate, and maybe others do not. I think it’s an individual’s choice how they spend the Silence at Quaker Meeting. The goal is not to fill the space. The goal is to sit and hold the light, and if you are called to speak, then speak only the right amount of words, using not too many, and not too few. Use just the right amount, then sit down. Then, it’s important for this thought to be given time for those who are there to absorb this message. So there should never be a “popcorn effect” of people jumping up and talking one right after another. It is good to have time for Messages to be placed into our consciousness before the next Message is given. I love the time in between messages, because it lets me really listen and think about it before the next one comes.

Historically, Quaker Meetings are Christian. However, nowadays, people can believe whatever they want to believe. Everyone is honored and appreciated on a whole level I never experienced at the Christian Science church. When I first walked in the door, the whole experience was so foreign to me. I wasn’t being judged or chastised for anything. It felt like a foreign language. It was an alien culture to me. I knew it must be a good thing, but I couldn’t understand it, so I stayed to see if I could figure it out over time. (I have been attending 2 years now, and every time I show up, the members are so supportive.

I am so used to being criticized, that this support often brings tears to my eyes. THIS is what love is supposed to feel like. Not the unceasing judgement I grew up with. The concept of judgement is completely foreign to the members of my Quaker Meeting, as far as I can tell. They don’t have the concept. They only have love in their hearts. It’s a phenomenal gift to be in this atmosphere.

Myths & Legends: The ‘Fall On The Ice’

By Jeremy, an Ex-Christian Scientist group editor/writer.

Like almost any other religion, Christian Science has its own mythology: those stories that form the core of the faith’s origins, and which often serve to bind its followers together and to the faith, and to validate the faith’s claims. A central story in the anthology of Christian Science myths is what’s often referred to as the ‘Fall On The Ice In Lynn (Massachusetts)’. If you visit the city of Lynn, which is just north of Boston, you can see a memorial plaque at the location at the corner of Market Street and Oxford Street in the downtown area, where our story starts. Anyone who has grown up in, or been in Christian Science for any amount of time knows the story well. This is considered to be the central event that led directly to Mary Baker Eddy’s ‘discovery’ of Christian Science.

A foundational legend of the origins of Christian Science

On February 1, 1866, Eddy was on her way to a Temperance movement meeting in downtown Lynn. She slipped and fell on the ice-covered sidewalk and was transported unconscious to a nearby house, where a doctor was summoned to treat her.

According to Eddy’s account, her condition was beyond the ability of medical practice to help. She claimed that the attending doctor gave her only a few days to live. Somehow, she managed the strength to ask for her Bible and began a deep study of it, focusing her attention particularly on Jesus’s healing of a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2). Miraculously, after about three days, she had an ‘immediate recovery’:

It was in Massachusetts, in February, 1866. . .that I discovered the Science of divine metaphysical healing which I afterwards named Christian Science.1

From this point on, so the story goes, Eddy sought to understand and ultimately explain this miraculous healing. She claimed an “immediate recovery” from the effects of her injury.

My immediate recovery from the effects of an injury caused by an accident, an injury that neither medicine nor surgery could reach, was the falling apple that led me to the discovery how to be well myself, and how to make others so.2

Some overlooked facts

There is no doubt that Eddy fell on the ice on a cold February evening in Lynn in 1866 and was taken unconscious to a nearby home where she was seen by a local physician. Beyond this, the story starts to take on the traits of a myth. There is fact and truth at its core, but it is shrouded in a blanket of hyperbole and exaggeration. Here are some facts that are ignored or revised in the ‘official’ Christian Science canon:

  1. The injury Eddy suffered was not life-threatening or nearly as serious as claimed by Eddy: Eddy claimed that the attending doctor, Dr. Alvin Cushing, told her that there was no hope for her recovery and that she only had about three days more to live.3 According to Cushing’s own records, consisting of case notes he made at the time he treated Eddy, that is not true. In a sworn affidavit, Cushing, referring to his notes, directly refutes a central part of Eddy’s version of events: “I did not at any time declare, or believe, there was no hope for Mrs. Patterson’s recovery, or that she was in critical condition, and did not at any time say, or believe, that she had but three or any other limited number of days to live.” (sworn affidavit of Dr. Alvin Cushing, January 2, 1907 – Hampden County, Massachusetts).4 Eddy also was treated on at least two subsequent occasions by Cushing following her miraculous three-day recovery, as well as professional visits in August of that year.5
  2. The ‘healing’ may not have been as quick, complete, and/or miraculous as later claimed by Eddy and her followers: just two weeks after her fall in Lynn, Eddy also sought metaphysical treatment from Julius Dresser, a fellow student of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. In her imploring letter to him, she expressed a feeling quite opposite of what she portrays in her own autobiographical recollection: “Two weeks ago I fell on the sidewalk . . .and was taken up for dead . . . ” She goes on to say, “The physician attending said I had taken the last step I ever should but in two days I got out of my bed alone, and will walk; but yet I confess I am frightened, and out of that nervous heat my friends are forming, spite of me, the terrible spinal affection from which I have suffered so long and hopelessly.”6 Eddy also was treated on at least three subsequent occasions by Cushing following her immediate’ three-day recovery.
  3. Eddy initiated a lawsuit against the City of Lynn in connection to the accident: it is worth noting, as one considers the veracity of Eddy’s claims of the epiphanic nature of this ‘healing’, that she began the process (later rescinded) of suing the city, claiming that the city was responsible for her injuries due to unsafe conditions in the street. In a petition presented to the city in the summer of 1866, she stated that she was seeking damages for “serious personal injuries from which she had little prospect of recovering.7 (emphasis is mine).
  4. Eddy didn’t cite her 1866 fall and healing until years later: Nowhere in her published writings does Eddy describe afall on the ice’ (it only occurs in her letter to Julius Dresser). Her slim autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection, published in 1891, refers vaguely to “an injury caused by an accident.” (p. 24) She goes on to say that after her recovery she “withdrew from society about three years, — to ponder my mission, to search the Scriptures, to find the Science of Mind that should take the things of God and show them to the creature, and reveal the great curative Principle,–Diety.” (pp. 24-25) If her 1866 accident and miraculous healing had been the revelatory event that led to her discovery of Christian Science, one would think she would have mentioned it in her early writings. But the first edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which appeared in 1875, makes no reference to the event. Only years later, well after the establishment of her church, does she refer to a healing of an injury in 1866. 

Some concluding thoughts

As one who grew up in and practiced Christian Science for 41 years, I took the story of the ‘Fall In Lynn’ as the origin point of my faith. This story was presented as the first and penultimate proof of the effectiveness of Christian Science as a healing agent. Mary Baker Eddy was near death, and she miraculously healed herself, and from that moment on she set about to putting her ‘discovery’ to words and sharing this system of healing with the world. That is the story that I and many others accepted as the whole and complete truth. It is the version that fuels the legend of Christian Science, and gives it its so-called ‘power’.

The facts presented here cast serious doubt on the veracity of Eddy’s and Christian Scientists’ claims regarding this important origin story. Sometimes, memories of events change over time, stories get embellished a bit, and smaller details get lost in the mists of ones memory. But in this case, it appears that Eddy fashioned this story in later years to create a revelatory myth for the origin of her religion. More than a few biographers, both friendly and critical, have mentioned Eddy’s propensity for shaping the truth to suit her needs.

Many religions have a singular origin moment or series of events that spark their birth. For instance, the Mormons have the story of the tablets containing the Book of Mormon being revealed to Joseph Smith in the woods of upstate New York; for Muslims, it is the 22-year period in which Muhammad received revelations he believed to be from God, which were recorded in the Qur’an. History is replete with many other such stories. Eddy and her followers turned a winter accident that resulted in a serious, but not really life-threatening injury into a virtual raisingofthedead myth that led to the discovery of the ‘miraculous’ healing system known as Christian Science.


Footnotes:

1 Eddy, Mary B. G. Retrospection and Introspection. Boston, Massachusetts: The Christian Science Board of Directors, 1892. 24. Print.

2 Ibid.

3 Gill, Gillian. Mary Baker Eddy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998. 162. Print.

4 Milmine, Georgine. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy: and the History of Christian Science. New York, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909. 84-86. Print.

5 Ibid.

6 Gill, p. 158.

7 Ibid.


 

Related Links:

Mary Baker Eddy (Wikipedia article).

Christian Science (Wikipedia article).